Exhibited

Galleries Maurice Sternberg, Chicago, Important American Art, 1850–1950, January 21–March 22, 2010

Related Work
Niagara Falls in Winter,
1848, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 36 1/8 inches, installed in the Senate Wing of the U.S. Capitol building.


After immigrating to the United States from his native France in 1840, Régis François Gignoux became entranced by the grandeur of the American landscape and devoted his career to capturing its most powerful sites in paint. Niagara Falls exerted a particularly strong hold on the artist, and he attempted to capture its sublime scope in several paintings. His most famous rendition, Niagara Falls in Winter (1848), is prominently installed in the Senate Wing of the U.S. Capitol building.

Our painting, Niagara Falls, depicts Terrapin Tower and Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island, a significant site developed by Peter and Augustus Porter in the early nineteenth century. The Porters, owners of the American falls and the surrounding Goat Island, built a 300 yard-long wooden pier upon the turtle-shaped rocks (hence the name Terrapin) in the 1820’s, adding a 45 foot-tall tower and extended observation deck in the 1830’s.[i] Gignoux highlights both developments, using them to anchor the sublimity of the scene—solid, man-made structures in the midst of swiftly-moving rapids, great sprays of mist, and an emerging rainbow.

The painting combines the naturalistic detail that provoked the art critic Henry Tuckerman to remark: “it has been said that some of [Gignoux’s winter scenes] are so truthful that they would almost allure a snow bunting from the sky,” with the atmospheric nuance that distinguished his landscapes. As Tuckerman continues:

 

Gignoux has made a study of American scenery under every aspect; he has observed nature in the     New World with reference to the modifying influence of the seasons…has proved felicitous in his true rendering of atmosphere, sky, and vegetation, as they are changed in tone, color, and effect by       vernal, summer, autumnal, and wintry agencies.[ii]

Niagara Falls conveys the grandeur of the site in the sharp descent of the flumes, the velocity of the currents, and the perilous passage of the figure on the footbridge—his smallness emphasizing the immensity of his surroundings. The painting captures the lyrical beauty of the falls while subtly establishing its patriotic character—a symbol of America’s vast natural splendor and expanding territorial prowess.

It was decided that Gignoux would become a landscape painter well before he reached the United States. Upon seeing one of his landscape sketches, Paul-Hippolyte Delaroche, his teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts, advised: “you are strong here;—be a landscape painter,” and so it was determined.[iii] After moving to New York in 1840, Gignoux quickly established himself within the leading Hudson River School circles of the time. He worked alongside Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and John Frederick Kensett at the famed Tenth Street Studio Building and exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Paris Salon. As his reputation expanded, he attracted important patrons, including Charles Gould, Baron Rothschild, and the Earl of Ellesmere, and students, including George Inness, and eventually served as the first president of the Brooklyn Art Association. Today, his paintings are in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society, and the Georgia Museum of Art.

JK:ajc


[i] Information gathered from www.niagarafrontier.com.

[ii] Henry R. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists (New York: James Carr Publishers, 1967, first published in 1867), 509.

[iii] Tuckerman, 508.

Biography


A French-born landscape artist best-known for his snow scenes.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Régis François Gignoux was born in Lyons, France, in 1816. At the age of nineteen, Gignoux enrolled as a student at the École des Beaux-Arts where he trained under the renowned history painter Paul-Hipployte Delaroche; under his instruction, Gignoux excelled at painting romantic landscape scenes. Gignoux immigrated to the United States in 1840 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. He developed a deep appreciation for the American landscape, and traveled to historic landmarks throughout the United States, which resulted in iconic views of Niagara Falls, the Catskill Mountains, Mount Washington, and Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

Gignoux was actively involved with prominent members of the Hudson River School—he briefly taught an eighteen-year-old George Inness in 1843, opened a studio at the well-known Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, and accompanied Frederic Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett on sketching trips during the 1850s. In 1851, Gignoux was elected to full membership of the National Academy of Design, and he later became the first president of the Brooklyn Art Association. As an American landscape artist, Gignoux distinguished himself from his Hudson River School contemporaries by painting winter scenes with a strikingly accurate sense of truth and intimacy. These winter landscapes became highly coveted during the late nineteenth century and attracted the attention of notable collectors and patrons, including Charles Gould, Baron Rothschild, and the Earl of Ellesmere.

During his career, Gignoux’s work was exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association, National Academy of Design, Paris Salon, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He returned to France in 1870, where he lived until his death in 1882. His work is included in the permanent collections of several important institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and United States Senate, Washington, D.C.

II. Chronology

1816 Born in Lyons, France
1835 Enrolls at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, studies under renowned French painter Paul-Hipployte Delaroche
1840 Immigrates to the United States
1843 Briefly trains George Inness in New York
1844 Establishes a studio in New York City; exhibits Interior of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky at the Boston Athenæum, where it receives critical acclaim
1850s Accompanies Frederic Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett on several sketching trips
1851 Elected to full membership of the National Academy of Design
1860s Paints in the White Mountains at the artist colony of North Conway, New Hampshire
1861 Involved in organizing the Brooklyn Art Association, which was formally established on January 5; Elected as the first president of the artist organization
1870 Returns to France
1882 Dies in Paris on August 6

III. Collections

Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New York
Brooklyn Museum, New York
The Columbus Museum, Georgia
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut
New-York Historical Society, New York
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
United States Senate, Washington, D.C
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

IV. Exhibitions

1838 Paris Salon, France
1842–68 National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1844 Boston Athenæum, Massachusetts
1847, 1852, 1856, 1859, 1861–2 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1855, 1858, 1870 Paris Salon, France
1860–79, 1884 Brooklyn Art Association, New York

V. Memberships

Brooklyn Art Association, 1861
Century Association
National Academy of Design, 1851

VI. Suggested Resources

Born, Wolfgang. American Landscape Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Vol. 2, G–O. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Sears, Clara Endicott. Highlights among the Hudson River Artists. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1947.

Régis François Gignoux (1816–1882)
Niagara Falls
Oil on canvas
9 7/8 x 20 7/8 inches
Signed lower left: R. Gignoux
+ Enlarged View
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